Watson Stands Tall at Torrey Pines
The nickname “Bubba” conjures the image of a carefree good ol’ boy who whistles his way past the graveyard. Bubba Watson’s got the good ol’ boy part down, but the carefree part? Not so much.
Facing an elite field and a chance to win his second PGA Tour event, and despite playing some brilliant golf on a major-caliber golf course, Watson was a bundle of nerves coming down the stretch of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Facing fellow lefty and hometown hero Phil Mickelson, Watson delivered when it counted, but he wasn’t exactly the Rock of Gibraltar out there.
Watson rolled in a clutch 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to give himself a two-shot lead over Mickelson, then sweated out Mickelson’s eagle attempt — although a poor drive left Mickelson no choice but to lay up and attempt to hole his third shot from the fairway.
“I learned that no matter how many rounds of golf you played, how many times you’ve been in the lead, and how many times you’ve won, you still get nervous. I was scared to death out there. Kept telling myself I’ve done this before. I’ve hit many golf balls. I can do this. I’ve shot many low rounds before, it’s just this time happens to be with the crowd and media and everybody in the world watching.
“I love the game of golf, so I’m nervous every time. I’m nervous on Thursday. I’m nervous on Wednesday, playing my Pro-Am partners. I want to play good at the game of golf. And you can’t perfect it, so there is always that bad shot just lurking.”
Still, winning breeds confidence, and Watson enters the meat of the Tour season on a surge of self-belief.
“Well, any time you win you’re going to have a higher belief in yourself,” he said. “To win on any golf course, I could care less what golf course it is or the competition is, because everybody’s great. That's what the sign used to say. These guys are good. You know, it’s the PGA Tour.
“No matter who is in the field, the field’s great. So for me to win a golf tournament is great. It’s a special day and a special honor to be blessed to have two wins on the PGA TOUR.”
Watson may be the game’s newest breakthrough star at 32, but he’s aware of his place in the game’s hierarchy. “I’ve done it (won on the PGA Tour) twice now,” he said. “I’m only 50 behind Phil and about 80 behind Tiger. So they better watch out.”
Lefty Turns Right
Has golf’s ultimate swashbuckler gone conservative? A week of safe, smart play from Mickelson culminated with his decision to lay up from the rough on the 72nd hole, forcing him to try to hole a wedge shot for a tying eagle. He did add a degree of theater to the occasion, though, having his caddie, Bones Mackay, tend the pin on the shot. “Obviously, you need to hit a great shot and you need to get some luck to hole one from the fairway,” Mickelson said. “I’m not naive on that. I get it. But I also didn’t want to have something in the way. It’s not like I do it every week. But the last hole of the tournament, I’ve got to make it.”
Mickelson seems rejuvenated after a troubled 2010 that included wife Amy’s high-profile cancer battle and his own revelation that he suffers from a form of arthritis. Having Amy following him on the course put an extra spring in his step.
“I think the way I would want to phrase it is Amy and I are in a much better place,” he said. “I mean, we feel we’re in a much better place. We’re excited about 2011. We just have a lot of things have been going our way, and we're in a better place. I think that 2011 has the potential to be what I expected 2010 to be. So I’m going to continue to work on my game and see if I can have a great year.”
For once, Lefty isn’t tinkering with his swing. “Again, the great thing or the thing I’m most excited about is I’m not making any changes. I’m kind of done making changes in my game and I’m trying to hit shots now.”
The guy with the Nike hat and icewater in his veins shot four rounds in the 60s and nearly took down the two lefthanders. No, I’m not talking about Tiger Woods, who was MIA on the weekend on his way to a T44 finish. I’m talking about Jhonattan Vegas, this season’s breakout star who followed up a win at the Hope with a T3 at Torrey Pines, where a shot that found water at 18 derailed another spirited effort from the native Venezuelan.
“I’ve been playing great golf,” he said. “I’m enjoying the moment, and enjoying everything about the PGA Tour so far. It’s been a dream come true. I’m just loving it, having so much fun. Even when I hit the ball in the water on 18, I went, oh, well, let’s see if we can make it now. Like I said, you've just got to keep loving the game, and that’s why we're here.”
Vegas far outshone his more ballyhooed counterpart in the Nike stable. Woods fought his swing throughout his 2011 debut, showing that there’s much more work to be done to fully implement his latest rebuilding job.